ROUND LAKE — Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of the Albany Diocese on Sunday met with an alleged victim of clergy sexual abuse as part of what he called an ongoing effort to be present for all abuse survivors.
The first-of-its-kind meeting took place at Corpus Christi Church, where the alleged victim, 47-year-old Stephen Mittler, has said he met his abuser, former Rev. Mark Haight, for the first time in 1988 when he was 12. Haight stands accused of abusing multiple boys over the course of more than a decade.
Sunday’s meeting took place behind closed doors, but Scharfenberger and Mittler addressed the media shortly before the bishop presided over an 11 a.m. mass, which Mittler attended with family and friends.
“My desire is to accompany anyone that’s been affected,” Scharfenberger said. “This is one aspect of that accompanying. Walking, literally, from the church of the steps in which Stephen met his abuser.”
In June, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany paid Mittler $750,000 to settle a claim he filed in 2019 under the state’s Child Victims Act, which opened up a lookback window for victims of sexual abuse to sue their alleged abusers. Haight will also pay $2,000 under the settlement. Thousands of claims have been filed under the law, including hundreds pertaining to clergy abuse at the Albany Diocese.
Mittler said he had a “really productive conversation” with the bishop and hopes they can have an ongoing working relationship to help victims of abuse moving forward. He provided few details about the conversation, but noted the talk centered around transparency and the ramifications of his abuse.
“I’m the face of abuse. My abuser is Mark Haight, who is the face of clergy sex abuse,” he said. “Bishop Scharfenberger represents the organization that allowed this to happen. He’s the face of abuse. My family’s been the face of abuse over the last month.”
Mittler, who filed his lawsuit under the pseudonym “John Doe” told The Daily Gazette last week he decided to come forward in the hopes of obtaining closure.
He also described meeting Haight, who he described as a family friend, for the first time and extensive grooming tactics the priest used to gain his trust, which included private plane rides and overnight visits to a private cabin in the Adirondacks.
“I recall not knowing what to do,” Mittler told the newspaper. “So, I never did anything.”
Mittler’s lawsuit contends that now-retired Bishop Howard Hubbard, who faces his own abuse allegations, knew of Haight’s abuse, which included multiple victims at different parishes over a decade, but did nothing to stop it.
In a court deposition released earlier this year in Albany County, Hubbard admitted that he was aware of reported sexual abuse and sent priests who committed abuse to treatment facilities before allowing them to return.
“Because of Howard Hubbard and his actions — I should have never met Mark Haight,” Mittler said. “Mark Haight should have been arrested and in prison right now.”
Scharfenberger declined to answer questions following Sunday’s meeting because he did want to talk away from the significance of Mittler coming forward, but addressed the meeting with parishioners during a sermon.
“I am here to listen. I am a spiritual father. I am here to take care of my spiritual sons and daughters. I want no one to be afraid. I want there to be no hidden corners,” he said. “We don’t have to talk about the hows or the whens, but I want you to know that I want no one to suffer in silence.”
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.